The American Athletic Conference takes center stage on national television Thursday night with a battle between two of last season's co-champions, Memphis and Cincinnati. This one could also serve as a possible preview of the first American Athletic Conference championship game at the end of the year. Memphis has been on auto-pilot to a 3-0 record with wins over Kansas and Bowling Green along the way, while Cincinnati has already lost a conference game to Temple. The Bearcats need to pick up a win to avoid getting caught behind two games in to the conference schedule. Leaving Memphis with a win may prove difficult.
Cincinnati at Memphis
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Thursday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Memphis -10
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Cincinnati slow down scoring hot streak of Memphis?
Justin Fuente has taken the Memphis offense to new heights. The Tigers enter this week's pivotal American Athletic Conference matchup scoring an average of 54.0 points per game through three games. That average came down after scoring 44 points in a win on the road at Bowling Green last week. Memphis leads the nation in red zone scoring with a clean 20 out of 20 red zone trips resulting in points on the scoreboard. Even more astounding is Memphis has scored a touchdown on 16 red zone trips so far this season. Bowling Green, on the other hand, has one of the worst red zone defenses in the early going this fall. The Falcons have allowed opponents to score 10 touchdowns on 15 red zone trips, with four field goals allowed on the remaining red zone opportunities.
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2. Great American (Athletic Conference) QB duel
In one corner is Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. The junior has completed 76.6 percent of his pass attempts for an average of 10.62 yards per attempt and 818 passing yards with six touchdowns. He has yet to be intercepted by an opposing defense this season. Paxton is coming off a 3,000-yard season that helped lead Memphis to the American Athletic Conference championship.
In the other corner is Gunner Kiel. Kiel has had some ups and downs already this season but has the arm to lead Cincinnati to some big wins in conference play. Through three games Kiel has thrown five touchdown passes with four interceptions with 805 passing yards. Kiel has the ability to throw up big numbers in any given game, and Cincinnati may need that from him to get by Memphis and avoid digging a quick 0-2 hole in conference play.
3. Cincinnati not a safe bet any way you look at it
Cincinnati may be the preseason favorite in the conference and off to a 2-1 record this season, but the Bearcats are anything but a sure bet for those looking to put a few bucks on the game. Cincinnati is off to a dreadful start against the spread this season, going 0-3. The Bearcats have been favored in each of their first three games, so a straight-up bet with Cincinnati may pay off. If point spreads are your thing though, look toward Memphis. The Tigers are 2-1 against the spread so far this season, but the point spread has more than doubled since the line opened. How much do you trust Las Vegas experts on this one?
When Cincinnati and Memphis get together, there should be plenty of offense. Both teams have what it takes to get caught up in a shootout type of game, but Memphis appears to have the upper hand heading into what could end up being a conference championship game preview. Memphis has been a force to reckon with on offense, and Cincinnati may not be able to slow it down enough on the road. Memphis has an answer every time Cincinnati takes a shot, and the Tigers pull away in the end.
Prediction: Memphis 46, Cincinnati 38
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.